Friday, April 11, 2008

To be a writer

Why do you want to be a writer?

The question itself is revealing. Is that what you want? "To be a writer"?

To BE a writer. To BE something. Not to DO something?

I don't think there is any field with such a vast majority of simple "wanna-bees." Writing attracts people with this desire because it is a way to get attention.

They view writing as some sort of public address system, a way to be heard. Period.

The problem is that there are a billion other wanna-bee writers with the same goal. Can you surface to the top in that attention-seeking crowd?

OK, in a small market, such as academic publishing or publishing in English outside North America, you may have the chance of the average frog in a small pond. Especially if you have friends in high places in the publishing industry. But the world shrinks by the day, and it is fast becoming as difficult to succeed in these low-competition markets as it is in the big one.

Since attention is all a wanna-bee is after, writing is all about THEM, not the reader (i.e., customer). Can you imagine the manufacturer of any other product having this attitude? No, right? That attitude would be the formula for failure in any other business.

You see indications of this misguided goal in many writers' resistance to suggestions that would improve their product. Some view it as a kind of come-down to write in plain English. They think their readers read to be impressed by their high-sounding rhetoric, long sentences, and complex constructions.

Is that not pure narcissism?

Others are preachers. They think the whole world is just dying to hear their enlightening sermon-in-print

I know that my own writing was never any good until I got serious about it and started writing to make money. Suddenly my whole attitude changed! Now it was all about the reader, not me. Now I appreciated good editing, and it never pushed my ego's buttons. Now I saw the value in plain English. Now my writing became clear, concise, sharp, and strong so that it sunk in and meant something concrete. Now people told me they appreciated the simplicity and clarity that enabled them to grasp what I was getting at with minimal effort.

As James Frey writes, writing is a service industry. It produces a product. In fiction the product is for entertainment. In non-fiction it is information.

Of course, your writing should enlighten. But people don't read to be preached at or impressed. They read for entertainment and/or information.

If providing that product is something you'd like to do and can do well, go for it, because you have a decent chance to succeed. But if all you want is "to be" a writer = someone who gets a lot of attention = think twice, because your chances of success are nil.

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